To Plot or Not?

I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I enjoy camping. We love to get away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world, explore the great outdoors, and then snuggle by a campfire under a blanket of stars. It’s wonderful. However, there are some downsides to camping, and perhaps the biggest is that it requires more planning — and packing — than just staying at a hotel.

When it comes to packing, my husband and I couldn’t be more different. He’s a list maker. If it’s on the list, it goes. If it’s not, it doesn’t. This is true of groceries, too. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had a ten minute discussion about needing shredded cheddar cheese — if it’s not on the list, he’ll come home without it.

As for me? Sometimes I make lists, but when I do, it’s scribbled on a post-it or a napkin or the back of an envelope. It immediately gets lost (or stolen by faeries), long before I need to look at it again. If I do manage to keep up with it, I’m never able to stick to it. Something always gets added, or forgotten, or both.

With writing, I’m much the same way. I like to have a list — an outline — but it often gets lost, ignored, or changed.

Still, I have to admit that the writing process goes more smoothly when I have an outline. That’s not true of everyone. Some writers are 100% “pantsers” (they write by the seat of their pants, planning nothing in advance). To them, an outline is stifling and kills their creativity. Other writers create fifty-page outlines that plot out the book’s journey in its entirety, with routes from A to B to C all planned out. For them, writer’s block comes when they don’t know where the story is going. Then there are writers like me, who work better with an outline, but prefer it to be far less detailed. For me, the outline is like a road map with the destinations decided but the routes left to chance. Sometimes the destinations even change along the way.

There’s no wrong way or right way — as long as the book gets written.

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” – Erol Ozan

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I’m a Reader

My earliest memories involve books. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t devour one right after the other, as quickly as I could get my hands on them. My parents are readers, so there were always books in the house, and we visited the library often. With its towering shelves and infinite number of books (or so it seemed to my wonder-filled eyes), the library was an enchanted place. It even had a cat, Spike, and every kid knows that cats are magical creatures and gatekeepers to parallel worlds.

Reading was always encouraged at home. We weren’t even forced to put down our books for meals; they were allowed at the dinner table. And you know who doesn’t mind being grounded? A kid who doesn’t need an excuse to stay in her room all day with a book, that’s who. My brother and I have long since moved away, but there’s rarely a conversation between us that doesn’t include a book recommendation. Books are the #1 gift at holidays. We share our beloved and tattered favorites, knowing it may be months (or years) before they’re returned to our shelves.

For a long time, I thought all families were like mine. Readers. It wasn’t until much later that I realized just how lucky I was.

According to Literacy Inc., 80% of families in the United States haven’t purchased a single book this year. EIGHTY percent.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how much I have benefited from literacy privilege. I take for granted that it’s a resource I’ve always had. Without basic reading comprehension skills, it’s nearly impossible to pass a driver’s test, find a job that pays a livable wage, read the labels of over-the-counter medications. Illiteracy is a trap and once you’re stuck, it’s nearly impossible to climb out. Always has been. Just look at the slaves who risked their lives to learn to read and write. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

And none of that even takes into account a good story’s ability to change lives. Countless stories have shaped who I am. Fiction is a treasure and books have made me rich.

It’s terrifying to think how different my life would be without books. That person would no longer be me. She’d be an impostor, a stranger.

Because I’m a reader.

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I’m a Writer

Writers have to write. Those are four words that we hear again and again, on blogs, in tweets, at conferences. And sure, it’s true, if there’s more to the sentence. Writers have to write in order to finish a book. Writers have to write if they want their stories read. Writers have to write if they want to get paid. 

But more often than not, that’s not what the speaker means. They mean that writers have to write, as if their fingertips are possessed by the ghosts of authors past. William Carlos Williams said, “I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.” I’m sure that for some, writing is a compulsion; they have to write. But for most of us, I don’t think that’s the case.

It’s certainly not true of me.

Writing is hard. Most days, I’d rather read a book, or watch a movie, or take a nap, or stare at the sun until my retinas burn out.

I write because I enjoy it (sometimes). I write because I feel like I’m pretty good at it (sometimes). I write because finding the right word is more satisfying than finding a huge chunk of chocolate in a pint of Graeter’s Double Chocolate Chip (and let’s be honest, very few things are better than chocolate).

I write because I’m a writer. And I have stories I want to tell.

“I hate writing. I love having written.” — Dorothy Parker